CORRECTION: This story was updated on Monday, Sept. 14,, 2020, at 4:45 p.m. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Heidi Campbell, a Senate Democratic nominee in Davidson County, was mayor of Oak Hill. Campbell stepped down as mayor after winning her party's Aug. 6 nomination to devote full time to her effort, a campaign official confirmed.
NASHVILLE — In a state where their party is a "super minority" in Tennessee's Republican-dominated Senate and House, Democrats hope to make inroads in the November election in changing urban and suburban-based districts, including a Chattanooga-based Senate seat.
Speaking last month to Tennessee delegates to the National Democratic Convention, state Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, said that despite Republicans having "gerrymandered the hell out of us" during 2012 redistricting, Democrats have a good chance of flipping several seats.
"We can take out Sen. Gardenhire in Chattanooga," she said of Todd Gardenhire, a Republican seeking his third term in Senate District 10, which includes portions of Hamilton and Bradley counties.
Akbari praised Gardenhire's Democratic opponent, Glenn Scruggs, a Chattanooga assistant police chief who is Black, as a strong candidate for the district that includes areas with large numbers of Black voters, suburban voters and rural areas.
Also high on Democrats' list for a potential pickup is the seat of Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville Republican who represents Senate District 20. He faces Democrat and former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell. Akbari added that "we'd love to take out Bill Powers in Clarksville," who represents Senate District 22. Ronnie L. Glynn, a Black retired U.S. Army master sergeant and small business owner, is the Democratic nominee.
Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager of Kingston disagreed about Democrats' chances, saying he feels "pretty confident" Gardenhire, Dickerson, Powers and the rest of the Republican incumbents facing serious challenges will prevail.
"I don't see any pickups by Democrats from the Republicans," Yager said. "But I don't see any change either. We'll keep up with what we have."
What Senate Republicans now have is a 28-5 super majority. House Republicans have a super majority, too, with 73 GOP representatives and just 25 Democrats. With their Senate and House majorities, Republicans can meet and pass laws without a single Democrat showing up so long as they have enough GOP members there.
There used to be a 26th House Democrat, Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis. But the state Democratic Party Executive Committee cast him out of the party earlier this year for siding with Republicans on a number of issues, especially school vouchers and abortion restrictions. DeBerry, a Black minister, is seeking re-election as an independent.
Asked specifically about Democrats' hopes of unseating Gardenhire and Dickerson, Yager said Democrats see both seats in play because of demographics. "But," he added, "we're in good shape in both districts, and I think we'll see both those senators win."
One Republican operative said that while Gardenhire has a "real race" with Scruggs, he predicted the senator would pull through with votes from Bradley County.
Back in the 2016 general election, Gardenhire lost Hamilton County to Democrat Khristy Wilkinson, with the senator picking up 27,453 to Wilkinson's 28,529 votes there.
But Republican-heavy portions of Bradley County came through for the senator, giving him 11,855 votes compared to just 2,514 for Wilkinson. Gardenhire won re-election with 39,308 votes to 31,043, an 8,265 vote margin and 55.87% of the total vote.
Democrats believe their 2020 presidential nominee, Joe Biden, as well as Scruggs, who has done well with fundraising, will prove more appealing and boost turnout among Democrats, especially Black voters, as Biden squares off with President Donald Trump in a GOP majority state.
Republicans, including Yager, don't see that happening.
Scruggs has done well with fundraising, but Gardenhire has generally funded much of his campaigns out of his own pocket. Gardenhire can likely rely on independent expenditures from far-better-funded Republican organizations and Senate members' leadership PACs than Democrats. At the same time, many Democratic candidates are raising lots of money through the ActBlue online fundraising platform.
Yager, meanwhile, also said Powers, who faced down a GOP primary election opponent, is in good shape.
House Democrats are hoping to make gains, too, but none of the seven or eight seats on their radar are in Chattanooga-based or other Southeast Tennessee districts.
Democratic candidates are running in two Republican-held House districts in Hamilton County. Incumbent Republican Rep. Robin Smith of Hixson faces Democrat Joan Farrell, also of Hixson, in House District 26. And Rep. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, is being challenged by Democrat Joseph Udeaja, a chemist and clinical pharmacist, in House District 30.
The closest seat to Chattanooga on House Democrats' list is the open House District 18 in Knoxville where current Rep. Martin Daniel, a Republican who narrowly won re-election two years ago, is retiring.
A moderate Republican, businessman Eddie Mannis, won the GOP primary over a much more conservative opponent. Several Republicans and even some Democrats believe having Mannis as nominee actually makes for a tougher climb by Democrat Virginia Couch, an attorney and small business owner.
Other House seats Democrats see as being within reach are largely in Shelby County and rapidly growing counties such as Rutherford. Republicans say they feel good they will win all of them.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.